The first church in Štítnik was built in the 13th century, and in the first quarter of the 14th century, its thorough reconstruction took place. The church was adapted to a more representative form, at the initiative of the lords of Štítnik, the Četnek family. It had to reflect the wealth and strength of the family and to compete with the church of the Bebek’s church from Plešivec. Soon after, in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, the church was again transformed into a three-aisle structure with an enlarged chancel.
At the beginning of the 15th century, when the owners of the town held high offices at the court of King Sigismund, the basilica was further extended to include the southern and northern chapels. It seems that the construction was interrupted by stormy events after the king’s death, including the fight against John Jiskra and post-Hussites rebels. Studies have shown that during this period the church was seriously damaged. This was especially true of the tower, from which only the walls remained to the height of the second floor. Repairs were carried out at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
In 1740, the tower was additionally reinforced with a wooden superstructure and a typically baroque wooden roof. At that time the church served Evangelicals who took it during the Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century. A thorough renovation of the church, during which medieval polychromes were unveiled, took place in the years 1899-1908. It was followed by a second phase of renovation between 1909 and 1914. Corrections and further works were carried out in the 1950s.
The original church from the 13th century was a single-nave structure with a square chancel in the east and a four-sided tower on the west side, which was yet a free-standing building at the time. In the first quarter of the 14th century, the nave was extended westwards to the tower and connected with it. Inside, a gallery was erected in the new part, and a sacristy was added to the northern side of the chancel. In the second quarter of the 14th century, the northern aisle was added, while the interior began to be decorated with wall polychromes.
In the third quarter of the fourteenth century, the church, by extending the southern aisle, finally obtained the form of a three-aisle basilica with a very short, two-bay nave and a chancel larger than previously. It received a Gothic, polygonal closure, ultimately giving chancel a longer form than the nave. The southern and northern aisles were also completed with polygonal closures in the 15th century.
The main entrance to the church at the end of the Middle Ages led from the south through a large pointed and biaxial portal with a high tympanum, separated by a central pillar. It was moulded, mounted on a pedestal, although without sculptural decorations. The next entrance portals were on the north side of the nave, in the west facade of the tower and in the southern wall of the southern chapel, where the moulded entrance had a special appearance with a narrow and very high tympanum. The interiors were covered with rib vaults, while the space of the aisles was separated from the central nave by pointed arcades based on four-sided pillars, richly decorated especially at the southern aisle.
The internal façades of the church were covered with colorful paintings. The oldest, from around 1350, presenting the passion cycle of Christ, were located on the northern side of the presbytery. Among them was also the unique image of Death as a rider on a white horse galloping towards a group of people. Then, in the second half of the fourteenth century, paintings of the Marian-Christological cycle were created on the northern wall of the nave, by a representative of Gemer painting with the influence of northern Italian schools. In the third stage, frescoes appeared on the southern wall, created in the style of the Franco-Flemish school, which manifested in realistic details and attempts to solve the scenes spatially. The youngest stage of painting decorations from the end of the 15th – beginning of the 16th century was placed inside the central nave and on the chancel arch (life of St. Francis).
The church of an interesting, tall and short three-aisle form with a very long presbytery, along with the fresco decorations inside, is one of the most valuable monuments in the Gemer region. The frescoes cover an area of 180 – 200 square meters, and in addition, other places in the interior are waiting to be discovered, possibly hiding more paintings. They are the largest surviving example of old wall painting in Slovakia. The church also has the oldest organ in Slovakia, from the end of the 15th century, and a bronze baptistery from 1454, by master John of Spišská Sobota.
Podolinský Š., Gotické kostoly, Bratislava 2010.
Pomfyová B. Stredoveká sakrálna architektúra v regióne Gemer a Malohont, „Archæologia historica”, roč. 34, č. 1, 2009.
Tajkov P., Archeologický výskum kostola evanjelickej cirkvi v Štítniku (okres Rožňava), „Archæologia historica”, roč. 43, č. 1, 2018.